Parents thrill when someone comments that one of their children reminds them of the parent or is the “spitting image” of them. Sometimes it’s based on looks; other times it’s mannerisms. But seeing some resemblance is usually a thrilling occurrence. For centuries, theologians have tried to grasp the ramifications of passages from Genesis in which mankind is said to have been created in the “image of God.” Moses alludes to this several times in Genesis. It is given as the grounds for punishing murder in Genesis 9:6. It is also a recurring theme in the New Testament letters.
This raises an interesting question: Is this a contradiction to Exodus 20:4 where images are forbidden? Israel was forbidden to create images, certainly for worship (Exodus 20:4), yet, perhaps ironically, scripture teaches that there is an image of God, and God made it, and it is you and me.
When the creation story was told, God created everything by SPEAKING it into existence (“and God said”), but when God created man He did more. God formed and breathed into this special creature and made it in His own image. Man was different. Man was special in how he was created and in the eyes of God from the very beginning.
Evolutionists consider man organized dirt; God considers man to be in His image. Evolution not only lowers man’s view of God (by taking God out of creation), but it also lowers man’s view of man (by claiming man is just another animal). If we are only evolved forms of dirt, then we really are no better than any other form of life: we are neither eternal nor accountable, but “being in His image” we were created both eternal and accountable.
Being created in the image of God is an amazing part of God’s plan. It is what gives us our innate worth. Genesis 1 initiates this crucial truth: God considers us of such value that He seeks to redeem us all.
Value and worth come from what stands behind and within an object, and God is both behind us and within us. He stands behind us as our creator and within us as our guiding light. Value is also determined and shown by what one is willing to pay for a thing. And for us God cherishes us so much that He paid the ultimate, “He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). That ultimate price is how valuable God considers us to be.
However, being in His image also carries with it accountability and responsibility. Just like we are accountable to honor our physical families and their good name, we have a responsibility to honor our heavenly Father, His Word and His good name. Numerous times Paul admonishes us toward conduct that honors and does not blaspheme the name or word of God (Romans 2:24, 1 Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:5). These calls point out a great responsibility we have to God.
But what did or does sin do to this image? God, and therefore His image, is righteous, holy, and sinless. Therefore, did Adam and Eve lose the image of God they were created in when they sinned? Did they stop being in the image of God?
When we sin, we are certainly tarnished morally, and our holiness is marred (Romans 3:10-18; 8:5-8). Scripture, however, does speak of man after the fall as still bearing the image or likeness of God (i.e. Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). It would appear therefore that while sin tarnishes and defaces the image of God in us, there are still aspects of our being in His image. Sin mars that image, but it does not remove or destroy it completely.
Then evidently the image does not consist only in the qualities of moral purity. In what other ways do we reflect God’s image? Well, certainly our reasoning power, creativity, ability to use language, ability to make moral judgments and choices, and above all, our capacity to worship distinguish us from the rest of God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-30) and make us like God in these capacities. None other of the creation have these capabilities as we do.
Are we in His image physically as well? An objection to this is that God is Spirit and therefore has no physical body: It is true that God is Spirit, but Psalm 94:9 asks, “Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?” God may not have literal ears or eyes, as our physical bodies do, but our ears and eyes are still in the image of His ability to hear and see. Our hearts are in His image as we love and serve mankind. Our longings are in His image as we yearn for spiritual fellowship and heavenly eternity.
Having been created in His image also places us as His earthly representative. Paul calls us ambassadors for Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Sometimes it is hard to imagine being ambassadors in His image when we act so contrary to His will, but it doesn’t change creation nor God’s desire for us. And while being created in His image carries great responsibility, it also carries even greater comfort and moral inspiration.
We are made to belong to Him. Our purpose in life is not to find ourselves, but to find Him. He is not lost; it is sinful man who is lost. When we read Luke 15, we need to remember we are not the Father, but the lost son. How fortunate we are to have been created for His glory.
God knows our potential. He knows what we can and need to be. When He created us in His image, He gave us all we need to accomplish what He seeks of us. Let us live worthy of our creation and His image. Let our image remind the world of Him.